You may not know Jenné Lombardo by name, but you’re undoubtedly familiar with her impressive — and impossibly cool — body of work. As one of the masterminds behind MADE Fashion Week and the force behind Milk Studios’ former Fashion Week partnership with MAC Cosmetics, Lombardo and her team are some of New York City’s biggest champions of young, emerging design talent and trendsetters. She and her MADE co-founders, Mazdack Rassi and Keith Baptista are clearly an unconventional, forward-thinking bunch, and she told us with a laugh, “If we had an HR department, we’d all get fired or sued.”
With her own consulting company The Terminal Presents, Lombardo is also the woman who big brands flock to when they’re in need of innovation, or a way to connect with the next generation of consumers. With a client list that boasts names like Alexander Wang, Playboy, W Hotels and Macy’s, it’s clear that she’s as business savvy as she is creative, and that she has plenty of ideas to go around.
On any given day, the mother of three can be found in a boardroom, in a design studio, on a plane to take meetings in Paris or throwing a rager — think Alexander Wang’s post-show frat party in September 2011 or a Fashion Week kick-off concert inside of Milk’s loading dock with Kendrick Lamar — so saying she’s busy is a massive understatement. And did we mention that she looks damn good while doing it all? Perusing photos of Lombardo online proves that she puts her money where her mouth is when it comes to style: She’s a fan of taking fashion risks and supporting burgeoning brands.
Just before the New York Fashion Week madness began, we sat down with Lombardo to hear about how she got her start, and perhaps more importantly, what she’s cooking up for the future.
Fashionista: Tell us about your early days at MAC. How did you land there?
Lombardo: I was working at Interview magazine. A friend of mine started working at MAC Cosmetics and brought me in to meet with the president at the time, who was John Demsey. He basically said, “I don’t have a job for you, but I think you’re terrific, and let’s just get you in here.” I created my own job within a massive corporation, and it’s a real ode to John as a visionary, as a boss and a leader.
What was your role? And how did you develop a relationship with Milk Studios?
When I was first there I was working with makeup artists and really making sure that all the different musicians had MAC product on tour, and MAC was really supportive of art and fashion and music initiatives. Ultimately I became the head of fashion talent and events. I would identify talent and negotiate spokespeople’s contracts for special product collaborations. I also made sure that MAC had presence backstage globally at all the different designers that we related to’s shows, as well as any additional fashion sponsorship initiatives.
My relationship with Milk Studios started there. We initiated this program called MAC & Milk where MAC was the official supporter of Milk studios [during New York Fashion Week]. The makeup stations here were outfitted with key MAC products, and it’s a really supportive and organic relationship that existed between MAC and Milk. MAC would support dinners and events that [Mazdak] Rassi was doing at Milk. That friendship between Rassi and I helped to create MAC & Milk, which is now known as MADE.
You said when you were at MAC you partnered with designers who were similar in view-point to you. How did you hone in on that talent?
I don’t know. I think it’s innate. I think it’s just intuition driven. My ear is super close to the ground, and I have a sense for what’s going on. I met [Alexander Wang] at a dinner at Milk, before he was “Alex Wang.” I thought he was really cool and funny. And at the time when I started to oversee fashion, nobody was paying attention to the next generation. They only cared about Carolina Herrera and Oscar de la Renta, and nobody was talking or thinking about Proenza Schouler or Alex. Those weren’t even on their radar, but to me they were the most important and most influential because I knew it was about to rupture.
When did MAC & Milk become MADE?
It was sort of this perfect storm of me and my two partners’ worlds colliding. I was leaving my role at MAC to start my own company, and for MAC it was something I had built internally there, and we decided that it was a really important program and that it couldn’t go away. Our strengths and respective roles coming together allowed us to build this program and work with talent. Not just designers: artists and musicians and Parsons students. You name it. But also with brands.
How does MADE work? How do the shows get put on?
Basically we have a division that scours the globe for talent in music and fashion, and they’re very well aware of what’s going on. And so we reach out more often than not to that talent. Once we’ve established a relationship with them — depending on if they’re doing a presentation or show — we decide on the package they get. If they’re doing a runway show, we have the entire runway space provided to them at no cost, and that’s basic sound and the overall production that Keith [Baptista]‘s team produces alongside our production company. If they’re doing a presentation, we underwrite the cost of the space as well as Milk. We raise [money] by way of our partners. We can sometimes support offsite shows, and whatever we have, we give.
Do you help each individual designer with their business trajectory? Or is there a mentorship?
It’s on a case by case basis. Some designers lean on us more than others, and we’re always here for them. We’re looking to formalize a relationship with a particular business school to offer that mentorship. And more importantly, to help these designers meet their potential business partners, because that’s what they all need.
Do you have any thoughts on the movement from Lincoln Center this season? Or about the hub they’re creating where new designers will show instead?